Saturday, March 19, 2011

#225. Raw Meat (1973)

DVD Synopsis: When a prominent politician and a beautiful young woman vanish inside a London subway station, Scotland Yard's Inspector Calhoun (Pleasence) investigates and makes a horrifiying discovery. Not only did a group of 19th-century tunnel workers survive a cave-in, but they lived for years in a secret underground enclave by consuming the flesh of their own dead. Now the lone descendant of this grisly tribe has surfaced, prowling the streets of London for fresh victims...and a new mate.

In recent months, I've come to admire the films of director Gary Sherman; whether horror (Dead & Buried) or action-packed thriller (Vice Squad, Wanted: Dead or Alive), his movies have never failed to entertain me. Needless to say, I happily jumped at the chance to check out Sherman's directorial debut, a 1973 horror film titled Raw Meat, and while I definitely found it to be a good outing, this movie does, unfortunately, have its share of problems as well. 

A young couple, Alex (David Ladd) and Patricia (Sharon Gurney), who have just arrived at the London Underground's Russell Square station, spot a man lying on the ground, apparently injured. They report what they've found to the police, who promptly investigate. However, when the police return to the scene, the man is nowhere to be found. As it turns out, the now-missing man was one James Manfred (James Cossins), an important government official, and Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance) of the local constabulary launches an investigation into the disappearance. What none of them realizes is that someone is living in an abandoned tunnel behind the Russell Square station, a Man (Hugh Armstrong) who has spent his entire life underground. He's the one behind Manfred's disappearance, as well as a slew of other missing persons reported in that area over the years. Far from any source of food, this Man has managed to stay alive by kidnapping passengers of the underground, and then eating them. 

Having spent the better part of his career playing shifty, dark characters, Donald Pleasance is here given a more comic, lighthearted role; his Inspector Calhoun is forever cracking jokes, usually at the expense of whoever he happens to be talking to at the time. While questioning Alex about the Manfred disappearance, Calhoun tries to rattle the young man by accusing him of planning the abduction himself, and then further antagonizes Alex as he's walking out the door by telling him he should 'get a haircut'. It was a nice change of pace for Pleasance, and he handled the humorous aspects of his character very well.  But Raw Meat isn't all fun and games. Shortly after the scene in which Calhoun questions Alex, we're taken deep below ground, to the abandoned tunnel that the cannibalistic “Man” (as he's referred to in the film's credits) calls home. In one long, uninterrupted shot, the camera slowly glides along the ground, revealing rats crawling over bloody body parts, which are strewn everywhere. Then Manfred comes into view, lying on the ground, where he seems to be in a state of shock. More bodies, in various states of decomposition, are revealed as the action shifts to another room, where the “Man” is kneeling next to the near-lifeless body of a woman (June Turner), who is obviously his mate. With the woman's agonizing groans echoing throughout the tunnel, the camera moves further down the way, finally coming to rest in front of a large mound of corpses, piled one on top of the other. It is a brilliantly choreographed sequence, and all at once we're introduced to the hell that exists behind the walls of the Russell Square station. 

Unfortunately, we don't get enough of these glimpses behind that wall, and Raw Meat definitely suffers as a result. Aside from the wonderful sequence I just described, the movie doesn't give us much of a chance to learn more about the “Man”. Instead, we follow Inspector Calhoun as he confers with scientists and colleagues, and sits at his desk, going over papers (he's investigating a disappearance in the underground, yet he never so much as visits the site until the end of the film). We also check back in several times with Alex and Patricia, the young couple from the opening scene, even though they have little to do with the story as it develops (again, until the ending). Much of the time Raw Meat spends above ground would have been better spent below it, giving us more insight into the “Man” and his isolated existence. As it stands, we get a quick glance now and then at what his life is like, but not enough to answer all of our questions, and I found myself, at times, growing impatient. For me, the real story was in that tunnel, and I definitely feel that Raw Meat missed a golden opportunity by not taking us there more often. 

If you're looking for the definitive Gary Sherman horror film, I would recommend checking out the excellent Dead & Buried. While Raw Meat is certainly not a bad film, it doesn't quite measure up to some of the director's later work.


Jonny Metro said...

Good review. I covered this one a while back on my blog (a 'streaming' selection from Netflix, I believe), and while the synopsis thrilled me, I actually found myself rather bored by the onscreen happenings. And yeah, Pleasance may have had a few humorous moments, but even he grated on my nerves, stomping around and in general acting like a diva.

My review (if you're interested)

Dave Becker said...

@J.Metro: Great review. I couldn't agree with you more.

What I found most distressing about RAW MEAT was that it was directed by Gary Sherman, a filmmaker I've come to respect in a big, big way (DEAD & BURIED remains one of my favorite finds since beginning this 'challenge' of mine). I think I liked RAW MEAT more than you did, but I cannot argue with you on any of the points you raise (except maybe Pleasance...he never got under my skin like he did yours!).

Thanks for stopping by, and you have a great blog there! I'm adding it to my list of 'regulars'